Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Theatre review: Moth

Only a couple of years on from getting a new building the Bush has already started experimenting with a second auditorium. They've staged a couple of shows there before but the first one I've had the chance to get to is Declan Greene's Moth, a transfer from the HighTide Festival. The Attic turns out to be a tiny space, low-ceilinged, as hot as the Finborough used to be pre air-con and, in this in-the-round arrangement, seating what can't have been much more than 40 people. At least this intimate, claustrophobic setup is apt for the play, which takes us into the world of a very disturbed teenager. Sebastian (Jordan Mifsúd) is a grubby, bullied schoolboy with only one friend - emo girl Claryssa (Stacey Gregg.) When even her friendship seems in question, Sebastian looks to a higher power and a more apocalyptic narrative for his life.

Soon after a fallout with Claryssa, Sebastian is particularly badly beaten up by his classmates. The next thing he sees is a vision of an angel calling himself St. Sebastian, telling him he's about to end the world and his namesake is to be his prophet. Finding a moth in a jar the next morning, Sebastian convinces himself it's an incarnation of the angel, and goes forth to convert his school.

Moth is one of those plays whose shape is hard to see until the end, when Greene gives an unexpected spin to the storytelling structure we thought we were watching, and so it's an interesting one to piece together after watching it. What you do see at the time though is the two children taking on the roles of everyone involved in their story, in powerful performances from Mifsúd and Gregg. I was already feeling bad enough for the actors having to wear, respectively, a school blazer and a hoodie in that heat - and that was before Gregg had to get under a duvet as well.

Director Prasanna Puwanarajah takes good advantage of how claustrophobic the space is to make for a very focused production, helped immensely by the lighting and sound. Jack Knowles' lighting rig in particular is very memorable: A fan of comics and anime, Sebastian's angelic visitation takes the form of a giant robot, and the crucifix of lights above the performance space gives exactly this sort of sci-fi atmosphere, but also gets put into use for softer effects, like an underwater metaphor of Claryssa's. James Cotterill's raised central platform also has lights embedded into it, and the production makes use of all these effects to create the different locations of the story.

But George Dennis's soundscape is also worthy of mention, very specifically located sounds taking us into the children's world. Moth builds, inevitably, to a disturbing and bleak conclusion that follows the consequences of bullying on the victim - and the quasi-religious framework of Sebastian's breakdown could be seen as a reminder that extreme reactions are not the sole province of only one group or religion. At times Greene's storytelling goes a bit too wilfully chaotic and I feel as if the structure would fall apart in the hands of a less committed cast. But as it stands the play has lucked out with a production brings a lot of energy and focus to it.

Moth by Declan Greene is booking until the 8th of June at the Bush Theatre's Attic (returns only.)

Running time: 1 hour straight through.

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